Less than Angels

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First edition (publ. Jonathan Cape)

Less Than Angels is a novel by Barbara Pym, first published in 1955.[1]

The novel is largely concerned with the activities of a group of anthropologists, and is to some extent based on the author's own experiences working at the International African Institute in London. It is set in a period of social change which is subtly represented within the novel's plot and setting[2]


Catherine Oliphant is a young writer, who lives with anthropologist Tom Mallow. Tom begins a romance with a student, Deirdre Swann, and his relationship with Catherine fizzles out. At the same time, she becomes interested in reclusive anthropologist Alaric Lydgate, who has recently returned from Africa. A hilarious sub-plot involves the activities of Deirdre's fellow-students Mark and Digby, and their attempts to curry favour with influential academics.

Tom departs for Africa, where he is killed during a time of political unrest. Deirdre begins to return Digby's fondness for her, and Catherine seems about to begin a relationship with Alaric.


  1. ^ Barbara Pym Society
  2. ^ Raz, Orna (2007). Social Dimensions in the Novels of Barbara Pym, 1949-1963. Edwin Mellen Press.